A well-intentioned but clumsy novel tracing the fortunes of a Cambodian girl through the horrors of civil war and the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, based on stories Webber heard during years of volunteer work in refugee camps in Thailand. Heroine Ly, the "much adored youngest daughter" of the upper-class Ung family, is born in 1958 in Phnom Penh—"the largest city and capital of the small peaceful country of Cambodia. . .rightly called the Pearl of the Far East," Civil war brings hardship, but not at first disaster: Ly, a hospital volunteer, becomes engaged to a handsome doctor. Even when the country falls to the Communist Khmer Rouge, people expect a quick return to normal life under the new regime. What they get is the "Killing Fields." The Ungs, pretending to be peasants, become starving prisoners working at hard labor for the Khmer Rouge, witnesses to brutal cruelty and the violent suppression of all acts of human kindness. Ly is separated from her sister, her parents are murdered, but she escapes with a friend, eventually finding her way to an idyllic resistance village—where she is reunited with and finally marries her true love, learns that she is actually a member of the Khmer royal family, brought up in hiding for her own protection. The fairy-tale ending is shattered by the deadly arrival of the Khmer Rouge, but Ly survives again and heads for the Thai border. The novel is rich in details about Cambodian life, but oversimplifications (e.g., "Nirvanah" is "the same as the Christian Heaven") make the author's understanding of Khmer culture somewhat suspect. Of obvious interest to those concerned with Cambodia, but amateurish writing transforms compelling material into an often plodding read.
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